You’re probably reading the review of the last tech launch of this year from Apple. As is the yearly mandate with all things tech, the outsides remain largely unchanged but the insides have newer and angrier chops to keep up with the demanding shift in AI-accelerated workloads and content creation. If you’re stroking your chin over whether this is a good upgrade over your MacBook Air then stop here and buy a MacBook Air because this is a serious laptop for creators and sciencey folks. From the nerds in lab coats to the hipsters in leather jackets, everyone can use the M3 Max for its maximum performance.
Apple MacBook Pro 16in M3 Max review
Let’s get the pricing out of the way. This year’s 16-inch MacBook Pro gets M3 Max and M3 Pro chips. For the M3 Max chip, it will start from ₹2,49,900 and go higher than the cost for a small hatchback. That’s to be expected from such a powerful laptop. Our 16-core CPU and 40-core GPU variant with 1TB drive and 48GB of unified memory costs ₹4 lakhs, with ₹99 rupees returned to you to buy an Apple Music subscription. But you can push those rookie numbers higher with more storage and bigger unified memory.
Does the Apple MacBook Pro 16in with M3 Max justify its wallet-shattering price tag? We spoke to a friend of Stuff HQ, who is doing a PhD in Chemical Biology at the University of California, Berkeley and we tried to run the same image processing tools that the scientists use. Specifically, we ran the Fiji software that is used by the University to track changes in cell behaviour by stacking multiple images. The MacBook Pro 16in with M3 Max handles this without breaking a sweat.
It maxed out the M3 Max’s CPU usage so it was a bit steamy but quick and painless. The 2GB files were a bit too easy for our Mac so we merged them into a 6GB file and ran filters to separate the cell from the background to study the cell behaviour. Between the MacBook Pro 16in with M2 Max and our review unit, the jump in performance is visible. Even for our nerdy friends at the lab, the processing time was a good few seconds faster on our review unit but not enough for them to ditch their own MacBook Pro 16in with M2 Max.
Why are we doing this? Because the M3 Max’s performance is wildly different from regular benchmark tests and real-world scenarios. For example, the Cinebench 2 benchmark for multi-core is 1644 and single-core is 139, which is a lot faster than the AMD Ryzen 9 7945HX3D that got 1467 and 105 points in multi-core and single-core respectively.
The M3 Max is even faster than the M1 Ultra which has more cores but the point is, these benchmarking software are optimised to use the full potential of the M3 chips while the real-world software will take a while to catch up to completely utilise the added benefits of these chips. It’s much, much faster than AMD and we’ll test it out with the Intel Core Ultra processors when they launch in the second week of December. But at the time of writing, the M3 Max outperforms the M1 Ultra and even the M2 Max chip in benchmarks but in real-world use, it’s not enough to throw your M2 Max out the window.
We all knew this but understanding the MacBook Pro 16in’s exceptional performance needs to be done. If you’re upgrading from Intel Macs, this thing is going to feel like ice skating on butter and if you’re going to run demanding software and do video editing, this is a phenomenal machine. The M3 MacBooks also support AV1 decode now.
Apple has hit the nail on the head with its CPU performance but the M3 Max is far from a one-trick pony. A new feature called Dynamic Caching has been implemented with the M3 chips to better utilise GPU resources for tasks. Dynamic Caching allocates appropriate amounts of memory resources in real time to tasks that require it without wasting or overspilling. It happens automatically by the computer so you best believe it’s working. The push for gaming by Apple doesn’t end there.
The M3 chips now support hardware-accelerated ray tracing and the MetalFX upscaling tech is also being pushed to developers to adopt and make the MacBook a more capable gaming machine.
Lies of P is one of the games that supports MetalFX upscaling, and it offers almost Nvidia RTX 4060 level of gaming performance. We got a steady 60FPS on 2K resolution on the Best preset graphic setting and MetalFX upscaling turned off. You can squeeze more 10 to 15 FPS when the MetalFX upscaling is set to Quality. On 4K the MetalFX upscaling offers a higher jump in frame rate from 25 to 40 FPS.
In comparison, an equally priced Nvidia RTX 4090 GPU laptop with the same 2K resolution and settings will push out 90 FPS without the Nvidia DLSS and 135 FPS when the DLSS upscaling is set to Quality. You can almost double it to a freakishly high FPS of 165 if the DLSS is set to Balance in Lies of P.
We also tried Baldur’s Gate 3, hitting a good 30 FPS at 4K resolution with God Rays and other graphic settings set to their maximum digits. On 2K resolution, the game performs much better with a steady 60FPS which feels like a capped frame rate. The settings were set to uncapped and the game would go up to 80 FPS but only in dialogue scenes which means it could be a bug at this point. Regardless, it was smooth and stable at 60FPS.
The most impressive thing about the MacBook Pro 16in is that the game performs the same with or without being connected to a power source. The games run for about an hour and you do hear the fans pushing the heat out but it never got loud and the MacBook Pro’s wrist rest area never got too hot either. It was warm at best. If you know anything about gaming laptops, it's that the fans sound like a broken hairdryer while gaming and the full performance is usually locked until you connect the charger.
The current state of gaming
Apple is moving in the right direction with the MacBook Pros this time but having just two or three latest triple-A games isn’t going to make this a gaming laptop. It’s not until Apple manages to onboard more developers to port their titles to the Mac. Apple awarded Lies of P Mac Game of the Year which might seem noble at first but you can’t overlook the fact that Baldur’s Gate 3 is a record-smashing game that launched this year and the fact that it’s only available on Steam and not the App Store.
Which makes me wonder, would Baldur’s Gate 3 have gotten the award if it showed up on the App Store? This App Store-first favouritism might steer many game developers away from Apple’s ARM platform but if Tim and buddies play their chips correctly, Apple can make this a good gaming platform. Albeit, buying a game on the App Store does have its advantages. Resident Evil Village is available on MacOS, iPhone 15 Pro and some iPads. So you can play that game on any device through a single purchase.
Oh and before you ask, no, Lies of P will not be coming to iOS or iPadOS anytime soon. Apple India gave us a chance to speak to the developers and they confirmed it.
Display and sound
Honestly, I enjoyed playing Baldur’s Gate 3 and Lies of P on this MacBook Pro 16in more than my gaming PC with an Nvidia RTX 4090, and that’s not because of the system itself but the monitor. The HDR quality while playing these games and watching content is the best I’ve seen on any laptop, even better than the expensive Alienware gaming laptops with OLEDs. It can do 1600 nits of peak brightness and 1000 nits of sustained brightness. Our 2K gaming monitor doesn’t look even half as good as the MacBook Pro 16in’s mini-LED display.
This Liquid Retina XDR display with 120Hz is frankly unparalleled and now it can do 600 nits of SDR brightness too. It’s so good that every other display will emotionally upset you and the display is perfect for photo and video editing. The blacks, colour and contrast are the best in business and a benchmark for all laptop manufacturers.
The same can be said for the sound quality. Internally, there’s nothing changed with the speakers from before but even now the six-speaker sound system with four force-cancelling woofers is the best laptop speaker you can find. It’s rich and textured without sounding too aggressive. Even the bass is punchy and the sound stage is great. Especially for gaming!
Ports and battery life
We got around 10 to 14 hours of battery life with Apple Arcade gaming as well as heavy InDesign and Photoshop use. You can squeeze more battery life if you’re doing writing work and research on the internet but if you’re using a Pro for Pro duties, you should carry the bundled power brick around.
Unlike the Intel MacBooks before the Apple Silicon era, you won’t have to go fiddling on Amazon for a multiport adaptor. This MacBook Pro has an SDXC card slot (supports UHS-I and UHS-II), three Thunderbolt 4 ports, a headphone jack, an HDMI 2.1 port, Wi-Fi 6E and Bluetooth 5.3. The keyboard and camera remain the same as before.
More than just a yearly refresh to the Apple Silicon. The M3 Max is a very powerful chip capable of handling real-world applications just as easily as a desktop computer. And it also manages to do so on battery. If the benchmarks are anything to go by, the M3 Max outperforms the most powerful Apple Silicon M1 chip, the M1 Ultra, in just one and a half years and it manages to do so without draining the battery and having less core count than the Ultra.
It’s a more efficient chip and if you’re looking to get one of the most powerful laptops without compromising on performance, battery and premium quality, the Apple MacBook Pro 16in M3 Max is the best laptop money can buy.
The M3 Max makes this the best workhorse laptop money can buy
|Apple M3 Max Chip 16-core CPU, 40-core GPU
|48GB unified memory (up to 64GB/128GB)
|1TB SSD (options for 2TB, 4TB, 8TB)
|16.2-inch Liquid Retina XDR display, 3456x2234 resolution at 254 pixels per inch
|Up to 600 nits SDR brightness, up to 1000 nits sustained (full-screen) HDR brightness, 1600 nits peak HDR brightness
|100-watt-hour lithium-polymer battery, 140W USB-C Power Adapter, USB-C to MagSafe 3 Cable, included 140W USB-C Power Adapter
|Wi-Fi 6E, Bluetooth 5.3